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Health, Sports & Psychology

OpenLearn Live: 15th August 2016

Updated Monday 15th August 2016

The shoe that tries hard to not be a shoe; fighting malaria; and Devon wrecks. Free learning from across the day.

Openlearn Live is where learning and research gets closer to your world. This page will be updated across the day.

On Friday, we completed a week exploring Rio, heard how literacy fuels social justice and heard of efforts to save Canada's desert

See the complete collection of OpenLearn Live


Today's posts


Nixon nixes gold

Today marks the 45th anniversary of a decision taken by Richard Nixon - the as-then-neither-disgraced-nor-former President of the US. Up until August 15th, 1971, if you had a dollar, you could exchange it directly for gold. That, though, was proving to be a problem. Because foreign governments could exchange dollars for gold, the US economy was starting to take a hit. On August 15th, Nixon took action:

With inflation on the rise and a gold run looming, Nixon’s administration coordinated a plan for bold action. From August 13 to 15, 1971, Nixon and fifteen advisers, including Federal Reserve Chairman Arthur Burns, Treasury Secretary John Connally, and Undersecretary for International Monetary AffairsPaul Volcker (later Federal Reserve Chairman) met at the presidential retreat at Camp David and created a new economic plan. On the evening of August 15, 1971, Nixon addressed the nation on a new economic policy that not only was intended to correct the balance of payments but also stave off inflation and lower the unemployment rate.

The first order was for the gold window to be closed. Foreign governments could no longer exchange their dollars for gold; in effect, the international monetary system turned into a fiat one. A few months later the Smithsonian agreementattempted to maintain pegged exchange rates, but the Bretton Woods system ended soon thereafter. The second order was for a 90-day freeze on wages and prices to check inflation. This marked the first time the government enacted wage and price controls outside of wartime. It was an attempt to bring down inflation without increasing the unemployment rate or slowing the economy. In addition, an import surcharge was set at 10 percent to ensure that American products would not be at a disadvantage because of exchange rates.

Read the full article at Federal Reserve History: Nixon Ends Convertibility of US Dollars to Gold and Announces Wage/Price Controls

In the UK, the idea of being able to exchange a pound for gold at the Bank of England is, sadly, an urban myth. That's not been possible since 1931, when Britain abandoned the Gold Standard. The Bank of England reveals the mundane truth behind the 'promise to pay the bearer':

What is the Bank’s “Promise to Pay”?
The words "I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of five [ten/twenty/fifty] pounds" date from long ago when our notes represented deposits of gold. At that time, a member of the public could exchange one of our banknotes for gold to the same value. For example, a £5 note could be exchanged for five gold coins, called sovereigns. But the value of the pound has not been linked to gold for many years, so the meaning of the promise to pay has changed. Exchange into gold is no longer possible and Bank of England notes can only be exchanged for other Bank of England notes of the same face value. Public trust in the pound is now maintained by the operation of monetary policy, the objective of which is price stability.

Read the full article at The Bank of England: Frequently Asked Questions: Banknotes

What is money?


New on FutureLearn

Who knows what shamanic energy allows our friends at FutureLearn to launch so many courses, every Monday without fail? There's seven new courses starting today - including three from The Open University:

From other partners, there's a range of courses including starting Dutch and geohealth.

See the full list of new and upcoming delights at FutureLearn


The Devon wrecks

Periodically, with the shifting tides and shifting sands, three long-wrecked ships re-emerge on the Devon Coast.

The timbers of a 1770 shipwreck exposed on the beach at Westwood Ho! Creative commons image Icon David Meredith under Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 license A wreck reappears at Westward Ho!

Now, those wrecks have been given additional protection for the times when sea and sand cannot keep them safe - they've been granted listed status:

Three historic shipwrecks in the South West have been given protection by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on the advice of Historic England.

Shipwrecks have been a source of inspiration to English writers, artists and scholars for centuries – from Shakespeare to Enid Blyton, whose Famous Five spent a whole summer exploring a fictional Cornish wreck. This summer, these wrecks have been given special protection, and they include two that are often publicly accessible from the Devon sands.

Shifting sands and weather patterns can allow the public to see sights that are usually the preserve of divers. When the conditions are right, visitors to Devon can see this important historic coastal fabric, which has now been identified and given state protection, from dry land. Dating from the late Medieval period to the late 18th century, all three wrecks are rare survivals of wooden sailing vessels found in English waters and are protected for their potential to shed new light on key periods of England's maritime history.

Read more - including descriptions of the three wrecks - at Historic England: Three Historic Shipwrecks Given Protection

Interested in wrecks? Try our free course on the Mary Rose

In Cornish wrecker's footsteps: Making a Timewatch programme


New free course: Mosquito resistance to insecticides

There's some alarming news from Venezuela, where the financial crisis in the country is having a knock-on effect onto public health:

It all starts with the mines. With the economy in tatters, at least 70,000 people from all walks of life have been streaming into this mining region over the past year, said Jorge Moreno, a leading mosquito expert in Venezuela. As they hunt for gold in watery pits, the perfect breeding ground for the mosquitoes that spread the disease, they are catching malaria by the tens of thousands.

Then, with the disease in their blood, they return home to Venezuela’s cities. But because of the economic collapse, there is often no medicine and little fumigation to prevent mosquitoes there from biting them and passing malaria to others, sickening tens of thousands more people and leaving entire towns desperate for help.

Read the full article at the New York Times: Hard Times in Venezuela Breed Malaria as Desperate Flock to Mines

And even if there was the money for fumigation, it might not be as effective as they'd hope - mosquitos are proving adept as adapting to insecticides, as our new free course explores.

Try our free course: Mosquito resistance to insecticides


Kitbag: Barefoot shoes

The Olympics moves into its second week, and our start-up segment moves from the hosts to the games. In particular, we're going to be looking at some sporting kit every day this week. We're starting with barefoot shoes.

Vibram FiveFingers shoes Creative commons image Icon Ben Schumin under Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 license

A barefoot shoe is, obviously, an oxymoron, although one which the shoe manufacturing businesses have done their best to bring to pass.

The origin of the shoes - also known as "minimalist shoes" - is tied to rise of barefoot running (with actual barefeet).

Harvard has been investigating barefoot running at its skeletal biology lab for some time. Their findings:

Our research asked how and why humans can and did run comfortably without modern running shoes. We tested and confirmed what many people knew already: that most experienced, habitually barefoot runners tend to avoid landing on the heel and instead land with a forefoot or midfoot strike. The bulk of our published research explores the collisional mechanics of different kinds of foot strikes. We show that most forefoot and some midfoot strikes (shod or barefoot) do not generate the sudden, large impact transients that occur when you heel strike (shod or barefoot). Consequently, runners who forefoot or midfoot strike do not need shoes with elevated cushioned heels to cope with these sudden, high transient forces that occur when you land on the ground. Therefore, barefoot and minimally shod people can run easily on the hardest surfaces in the world without discomfort from landing. If impact transient forces contribute to some forms of injury, then this style of running (shod or barefoot) might have some benefits, but that hypothesis remains to be tested.

In other words, you run differently when you're not wearing trainers, and it's possible that the different way of running might result in less injuries.

You'll note the warning that this is an untested hypothesis - and that's important.

Obviously, the idea that we should all cast off our shoe coverings and run barefoot was impractical. Shoes do other things than merely cushion the foot as your run. Harvard's Daniel Lieberman reminded Sciencemag that having footwear helps in other ways:

So should sporty types shed their shoes and jump on the barefooted bandwagon? "Not at all," says Lieberman. "Shoes are comfortable, and they protect the foot" from glass, asphalt, and other harsh realities of urban running, he notes. Instead, Lieberman (who has since taken up occasional barefoot running himself) recommends a gradual transition for the bare-curious, one that allows the feet and calves to strengthen slowly and avoid injury.

Something else that trainers do is help build the profits of sportswear manufacturers, and they were keen to produce something that helped promote the value of barefoot running, while providing enough of a shoe to still give them something to sell. Hence the rise of barefoot shoes. The market for glove-like shoes quickly grew to be worth something around USD260million.

There's a problem, though. Some of those seeking to sell these new shoes were keen to wrap them up in science. Despite the people who have led the science in this field stressing that it's a hypothesis that these shoes will reduce injury, some adverts made greater claims. And in 2012, it was heading for court, as CNBC reports:

Late last week, a consumer named Joseph Rocco sued adidas for overpromising on the benefits of its minimalist show, the adiPURE training shoe. Rocco alleges that the reduced padding in the shoe decreases protection of the foot and therefore makes it easier to get hurt.
[...]
Vibram was sued in March for making deceptive statements about the barefoot shoe they make. However, unlike the adidas shoes, Vibram does have a hangtag on the shoe and a brochure inside the box with a warning about the possibility of a long transition to these types of shoes. The company has said it will defend its claims.

Vibram settled in 2015:

Vibram USA, the company that makes FiveFingers running shoes, has agreed to settle a lawsuit that alleged the company made false and unsubstantiated claims about the health benefits of its glove-like footwear. According to the court filings, Vibram settled to put the matter to rest and avoid any additional legal expenses. “Vibram expressly denied and continues to deny any wrongdoing alleged in the Actions, and neither admits nor concedes any actual or potential fault, wrongdoing or liability,” read the court brief.

Joshua T. Calo of  Villanova University School of Law suggests that the cases should encourage manufacturers to think a bit more carefully about how they use ongoing scientific debate in advertising.

Previously on OpenLearn Live: Are expensive trainers worth it?

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